Full house as Faculty puts court reforms under spotlight

18 Sep



The Faculty staged a major conference to highlight and examine the most significant structural reforms of the Scottish court system in more than 150 years.

The event, Court Reform: The New Law, proved so popular that it had to be moved from its original venue of the Faculty’s Mackenzie Building to the larger Laigh Hall in Parliament House.

The speakers included Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice Clerk, Sheriff Principal Craig Scott, QC, Deputy President of the Sheriff Appeal Court, and Paul Wheelhouse, MSP, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, who set the wider scene to the changes.

Also, a number of experienced practitioners spoke on different aspects of the reforms.

In opening remarks, James Wolffe, QC, Dean of Faculty, said: “On Tuesday, the key provisions of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act will come into force. We could not let that event go by without marking it.

“It is a reflection of the interest of the profession in the courts reform process that we have had to move our conference here to the Laigh Hall and I am very glad that we have – for it is fitting that we should be marking such a significant date in the long legal history of our nation here, in Parliament House, the heart of the legal system.”

Mr Wheelhouse described the Act as “an incredibly important piece of legislation” which planned to deliver a more efficient and effective system. He said no legal system could stand still, and no change was ever easy or pain-free.

“We must do everything we can to enhance the Scottish civil courts and the legal system. I am confident the journey will be a positive and interesting one for all,” he added.

Lord Carloway insisted that the “targeted and systematic overhaul” of the civil justice system, as laid out in the Gill Review, had been long overdue. He recognised that these were times of great change and some uncertainty in many quarters, and that the reforms presented significant challenges.

“It is important not to lose sight of the underlying rationale of the reforms and the benefits it is thought will ultimately be gained…the ultimate objective is that cases are given the appropriate level of scrutiny and determined expeditiously and in accordance with our principles of law and justice,” said Lord Carloway.

“With the constructive co-operation of the profession, there is a great opportunity to establish an integrated courts and tribunals system of which we can all be justly proud.”

Sheriff Principal Scott said the criminal division of the Sheriff Appeal Court would sit in Court 5 of the Lawnmarket building in Edinburgh, where the courtroom had been adapted to accommodate a three-strong Bench.

It was estimated that the court would absorb some 60 per cent of appeals business currently handled by the High Court, and the successful eradication of delays which had once been a feature of High Court appeals “must be sustained.”

The civil division – due to start next year – was likely to occupy either Court Five or Court Nine of Parliament House, although the current draft rules provided that, on occasion, a single appeal sheriff could hear an appeal in the sheriffdom from which the case came.

Sheriff Principal Scott added: “I am confident…that the Sheriff Appeal Court will serve the administration of justice in Scotland well.”